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"Hot Coffee" Stirs Controversy in the Law Community

The 88-minute documentary "Hot Coffee" is broken up into four different and distinct chapters which show the manner in which government officials are trying to limit the power of the public when it comes to class action lawsuits. It also shows how some people over the years have taken advantage of the system with "jackpot justice," but overall does a terrific job of standing up for the people.

Hot Coffee at McDonalds

The beginning of the film goes over a case where Stella Liebeck, an 81-year-old woman, bought a cup of coffee from McDonalds and while sitting in the passenger seat with the cup of coffee between her legs, spilled the drink and caused devastating burns to her inner thighs. The coffee was ridiculously hot and Liebeck never truly recovered.

Even though she never recovered the full amount that the jury awarded her, $2.9 million, due to caps on punitive damages, people like to point to this case as the jumping off point of frivolous lawsuits in America. Liebeck was mocked endlessly and the facts of her case were skewed into oblivion.

The fact of the matter was that Liebeck was hurt and needed more money for her medical bills, but due to regulations and tort reform backed by "big business" lobbyists, she only received a portion of what she was owed. McDonalds never learned their lesson.

Jamie Leigh Jones vs. KBR and Halliburton

Jamie Leigh Jones was an impressionable 19-year-old girl. Not knowing where her life would take her Jones decided to take a job at KBR, a subsidiary of Halliburton at the time, and was sent to Iraq. She was told she would be safe, she was told she would have her own living quarters, and that she had nothing to worry about.

What actually happened was that she was placed into a living situation where she was entrenched with 400 men. She was then drugged and brutally raped by several of those very men. Afterwards, she was treated with a rape kit which was turned over to KBR, parts of which subsequently disappeared, and was locked in a storage trailer behind armed guards while she begged and pleaded to be released. She was imprisoned.

Due to a forced arbitration clause in her employment contract with KBR she couldn't have her day in court to recover economic and non-economic damages. She was forced to settle for a confidential amount behind closed doors where nobody would hear of her story. This is not a frivolous lawsuit and Jones' story led Senator Al Franken, MN, to pass an amendment against forced arbitration.

Tort Reform and Judge Diaz

Do you know what the US Chamber of Commerce is? Did you know that it's not actually part of the government? Do you have any idea what they're doing and who they're manipulating? Well, Mississippi resident and former Mississippi Supreme Court Justice Oliver Diaz does.

The US Chamber of Commerce tried tirelessly to get Diaz off of his seat in the Supreme Court by funding a "big business" candidate who was running against him. People like Karl Rove began this group to try to put business-favorable judges in high seats all across the country so that they'd rule on the side of business rather than the consumer.

Tort reform is the main ideal behind these changes. Business lobbyists and corporate politicians side with businesses for a big paycheck and let the general public suffer. They want to limit your ability to protect yourself against large companies and limit medical malpractice suits to protect doctors and insurance companies.

Is Any of This Right?

Of course frivolous lawsuits are wrong, but class action lawsuits are what keep our children's toys safe, it's what keeps lead out of our paint, it's the only means we have to fight back against big business who favor "profits over people." There are hundreds of examples of U.S. and foreign corporations selling American consumers products that the corporations know will injure or kill a number of consumers.

There are hundreds of examples of U.S. and foreign corporations taking significant advantage of American consumers but in small ways. Ways that we might not notice. Ways that without the ability for all of us to ban together to fight back as a class, we would have no chance.

Take the little rip-offs that cost us each a few bucks a month and add up to millions if not billions of dollars of profits for the corporation. No one is going to fight Bank of America in court on their own over a two buck rip-off a month for a year. Bank of American made millions off of small over charges to their account holders. Without class action lawsuits, how could we stop them? We certainly can't count on our big business, bought and paid for government to protect us. The foxes are watching the hen house.

Big business is using their superior economic strength and PR firms to push "tort reform" on the American public in order to protect themselves from being held accountable. They are selling "tort reform" as something good for the public. Do you buy that?

Who do you trust more to protect you from corporate wrongdoing, politicians making "tort reform" laws "for your benefit" or a jury of your peers? We let juries decide if someone should be convicted of a crime and sentenced to death, but we can't trust a jury to decide an economic dispute in a personal injury case? That makes no sense.

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